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Here's a post in the form of a letter. I sent it to Rochester drummer and author Noal Cohen, who has helped me with my research of early Rochester jazz. Cohen currently lives in New Jersey, but worked with Chuck Mangione and Ron Carter in Rochester when he lived there in the late 1950s. He's the esteemed coauthor of Rat Race Blues, the biography of Gigi Gryce.
Hi Noal: I'm making great progress on the early days. I'll be doing one last interview tomorrow night with 88-year-old Fred Remington, Dave Remington's first cousin. He was a Tatum-style pianist who became a psychiatrist. He knew all the cats in the 1940s, including Herbie Brock. I'm hopeful he can put a useful spin on that time and answer some of my remaining questions.
With my various interviews, I now have a composite of those times, including how bop was slowly incorporated into Rochester's music. I'll be writing it up in a blog post. That post will also include some other research I've done about Rochester jazz in the early 1950s--not germane to my Pepper biography, of course--but it will include a mention of a clique of musicians, Jon Hendricks among them, and so forth.
It doesn't sound like the Frederick Douglass Voice covered the jazz scene. In my interview with saxophonist Ralph Dickinson, who read the paper then, he said that his six-month gig at the Elite wasn't mentioned in the Voice. Considering that, it seems doubtful it ever was mentioned during the time Pepper played in the band. Because of that, I've decided not to visit the Rochester Museum and peruse back issues. I have descriptions of the Elite from two different sources and that will suffice. The building and general area was torn down to build the Inner Loop [highway], so I'm not even visiting it to take photographs. I also get the sense that Howard Coles' radio shows were gospel oriented and inspirational in nature, plus I guess he relied on his sources and his newspaper work to also speak about affairs of the day?
The radio shows that would interest me are Raymond Murphy programs on WRNY in 1946 and '47, if any exist, because Pepper had some input into their preparation and listened to them while in high school. I've been told that a large collection of old radio programs are housed at St. John Fisher College. I'm researching that to see if they possibly exist, but it's a long shot indeed.
I've also been in touch with a blues harpist, Tom Hanney, who is on the faculty of RIT and is doing original research on the blues scene in Rochester. It looks like it doesn't go back that far, but, very significantly, Son House lived in obscurity in Rochester from the early 1940s until he was rediscovered by Alan Wilson of Canned Heat in the mid-1960s. I've asked Tom to try to determine whether House got any press or even occasionally surfaced to do a gig here and there when Pepper lived in Rochester. At this point, it seems doubtful but we'll see.
The series from the D&C [newspaper], "Whatever Happened to . . . ," gives me all sorts of color about what Rochester was like in the first half of the century. I'll be relying on that to give my chapter some more depth. There's a monograph written by Curt Gerling called Smugtown that was published in the 1940s in the American Journal of Sociology that I'd like to see. It measures the moral index of Rochester (disguised by the euphemism "Gorge City.")
An important urban history of Rochester was written in four volumes by Blake McKelvey, originally by Harvard U. Press. That's also something I'd like to check out. Volume 4 seems like the one I want.
Lastly, I'll be getting a thumb drive of info from Doug Duke researcher Sheron Dixon Wahl with all sorts of data on it. Clearly, Duke was one of the pioneers of the jazz organ and important in that way. He played for many years at Squeezer's.
I'll write my last historical blog post about Rochester, then send you the link. I'd be pleased if you could add it with my other ones to your site. It will in some ways be the core of my RIT talk on October 21.
All the best,